A little TLC for Theatre Workbook and a word to the wise to Bourgeois & Maurice

I’ve been a little quiet on the commenting and/or interviewing front recently but the absence from this blog of such things is not indicative of my writing output this month, and this isn’t just an excuse. It really isn’t.

I’m up in Edinburgh this year writing for FEST and have been lucky enough to be talking to some very interesting, and in some cases scary, people for a few articles in their preview edition.  I’m not going to ruin any surprises but these folk have include the steely eyed, caramel toned Steve Lambert from Badac Theatre Company, the bombastic and scarily multi-voiced David Strassman, the lovely ladies from Jammy Voo and the wonderfully obscure but poetic Derevo.  Plus a little bit of flamenco guitarist Paco Pena and nearly the great Jude Kelly – I’m still crying about that one. Seriously.  Watch out for these lovelies and more, coming to a newsagents near you, if you live in Edinburgh.

But in the interim I’ve also seen some fantastic stuff that to my shame I haven’t written up.  So I thought I’d bung it all together into two half review, half comment pieces herewith in order to fulfil my parlous blog schedule and restore some faith in my own ability to work to a personal deadline.  The first is below – the second to follow…

Bourgeois and Maurice are artists that I’ve, rather stubbornly, not liked for a long time due to a dodgy cabaret set I saw them do in the Royal Court’s bar last year.  In an attempt to justify my prejudice I headed over to Soho Theatre on Friday to see them perform.  As I settled down on my stool of cynicism I found to my dismay and then delight that actually they are really rather good.

Witty and glitzy, it is true that singing is not Bourgeois’ strong point but my, he does make up for it in charismatic stage presence.  When given more than 30 minutes and a sequence of songs that simply highlight his rather strained singing tone, this man paints a hypnotic picture of strangely glorious sibling adventure through his spoken links that gel this show together.  As he chatters on in fabulous techni-colour, Maurice more than brings up the musical rear, with a smashing vocal and effortless piano playing.  She must be more fun to play, as he sets up the atmosphere and she gets all the monosyllabic, grunting punch lines; although she does open up later and golly when she does, she’s just as delectable as her ‘brother’.  Their clever songs pastiche what it is to be cool and liberal, whilst resting on their ultimately chic laurels.  The whole thing may not mean much more than it says on the cans of hairspray or numerous glitter tubes that created them both, or be saying anything that you haven’t heard from any left leaning arty types before but I didn’t want it to end.

This kind of cabaret theatre has always trodden a very fine line between being entertaining eye candy and truly subverting. The danger seems to lie in actually caring about what you say in the midst of all the pithy glamour.  To mean something is to be worthy, a word that reeks of brown Clarks shoes and bad haircuts – not the image that cabaret performers want to portray.  How then to be both?

Artists like David Hoyle and Taylor Mac have perhaps perfected the ability to be at once ‘faaaaabulous’ and deathly serious but it is a difficult wind to sail (excuse my wandering analogies).  What Hoyle and Mac both share is an acceptance that what they’re saying may not be liked, a fearlessness that encompasses awkwardness and failure.  It makes them dangerous and gives integrity to what they’re saying; they don’t just want to ‘please’ the audience.   I don’t think that Bourgeois and Maurice want to just do that either, but they haven’t quite let go of their need to be liked and until they do their shows will only ever be spectacles.

Before I go let me just state that for all I know they may not want their work to be anything other than this.  But if this is so it would seem a shame, because they really could be as brilliant and as challenging as these monoliths of the cabaret theatre scene, and in their current show at Soho, they nearly are.

Bourgeois & Maurice Shedding Skin runs until 10th July.

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